We are at the top of the John Hancock building and I think to myself that maybe my son’s wedding will be here…

My younger son is not a farm kid. I mean, you’d think he’s a farm kid because he collects eggs every day and he can herd cattle in a pinch, but there is no question in my mind that he will grow up and go to a city. He’ll marry a girl who does not shop at Farm and Fleet.

I guess what happens is that when you stop dreaming about your own wedding, it’s only a few years before you start dreaming about your kid’s wedding. Will I cry? Will I love the girl? Will she be better than I am at the things I care about most?

I hope so.

One of the great benefits of homeschooling is that you can expand the curriculum to reflect what you think is important. And clearly, the criteria we use to pick a spouse is very important. Yet I don’t see much lesson planning around the idea that choosing a spouse is a science you can learn.

Here are some suggestions for approaches kids can take when learning to pick a spouse:

1. Train yourself to think in terms of money and timing.
The biggest career decision we make is who we marry, so it seems that kids should receive at least as much marriage training as the most valued academic topics.

There are rules to follow if you want to have kids. Whether you are training for how to pick a wife or how to pick a husband, the bottom line is that you can either choose to be the breadwinner or marry a breadwinner. But sharing all duties evenly almost never works.

2. Learn about personality type.
The Fortune 500 uses personality typing in a ubiquitous way for one reason: it works. Personality typing is great for understanding someone’s core motivations and preferences. Those qualities do not shift significantly over the course of a life.

An ISTJ will never be the life of the party. An ESFP is never going to be a big reader. An INFJ will be loyal. An ENTJ will earn a lot of money. Really. This is a good system to get basic information about what you need for yourself and whether you’re a good fit for the person in front of you.

You can’t be certain that a spouse will change over the years, and you can be certain you won’t be able to predict anything in your life precisely. But knowing a person’s type tells you immediately what sort of support that person would need from you and what values will not change over the course of five years.

All kids should learn how to pick out someone’s personality type by talking with them. You can teach your kids this skill by learning it yourself.

3. Understand what makes people happy.
Spending time with people we love is what makes us happy. Which you probably already knew. But did you know it has been quantified? Yes. Sex once a week with the same partner is a tipping point for happiness.

Jobs don’t make people happy, but bad jobs make people unhappy. People are able to find happiness when they have reliable work, with hours they can control. When evaluating a potential marriage partner from a field of employed people, your kids should know that some careers are notorious for making people unhappy.

For example, lawyers are the most suicidal of all professionals. (So maybe keep your kids away from Washington, DC which has the highest lawyers per capita in the US.) Some jobs are understood as naturally tuned for creating happy people. For example, janitors are usually happy at work, (So maybe teach your kids to search for a spouse at a janitorial company.)

The big takeaway here, of course, is that kids should learn about relationships just as they learn about other subjects they’re interested in. And kids should understand that the goal of education is to grow solid relationships. A career is nice, but a career in the context of poor relationships surely belies a hole in one’s education.



18 replies
  1. Lucie
    Lucie says:

    What a great post, Penelope. In my many years of fine education, both public and private, I never learnt anything about how to pick a life partner, how to keep a marriage together, or how to raise kids. And yet, those are the most important things in life, and the most important for our happiness.

    And surprise surprise I now have a great career but nothing to come home to.

    School doesn’t teach relationships or reward you for keeping good relationships. In fact it’s the opposite, along the lines of: “do your homework instead of chatting to friends about silly things.”

    Then, many of us high achievers end up with no life at all, because we’ve devoted all our time to working for good grades, and later pay rises. And at some point you realize that no matter how much you love your job, your job will never love you back.

  2. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    Chris and I just got done with an awesome dinner and looking over our life and feeling so happy and thankful to, well, be so happy and have the opportunity to make life what we want to.
    We laughed at the stupid financial decisions we made early in our marriage.
    But looking back I see a story of us learning what makes us happy and how to get there. Self knowledge i guess.

    I want to make sure that I enable my children to learn about themselves and about how to make the most important things to them a constant in their lives. Maybe they won’t want children, or marriage,or a big job, or whatever.
    For me it was learning that it was okay to state what I wanted and needed and that it was okay to go after it. That it didn’t mean or matter I was greedy, selfish, or self centered. Then all of a sudden it felt as if the world opened up and everything was easy to reach.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Learning about my own kids, while unschooling, has opened my eyes to learning about who I am as well.

  3. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    This is so interesting to me, and I like this a lot.

    But for me, if I had based choosing a life partner based on MBTI compatibility I would not be with my spouse. He is not ENTJ, but he is a high earner, hard worker, and everyone loves working with him at all levels and trades. I am an INTJ, and the downside is being called a robot by someone who doesn’t understand how I internalize emotions. I feel things deeply, but I do not like talking about it with anyone, he does not understand that. We fight about my lack of emotions a lot, and he is a very passionate person in everything and anything.

    If I had known about mbti back then and saw how incompatible we are I wouldn’t have moved forward. Life is interesting and unexpected and full of crazy adventures that are outside my comfort level.

    So I think that I would not recommend screening potential partners for my children, however, I would want my kids to know who they are before they turn 30 and have a handle on how to work with others. You don’t learn that in school, so unschooling gives us the opportunities to meet people we never would have and my kids like being pulled out of their comfort zone more than I do and they are, so far, brilliant around other people, without school or teachers!

    I think happiness is relative. My husband came home a few weeks ago and said he has never felt so fulfilled in his career until the last 6 months. I’m happy when he is happy. I’m happy that he trusts me to unschool the kids, even sometimes…radically unschool them.

    Being with a high earner makes life a lot easier, but we didn’t start out this way. Our parents are both high achievers/earners but they did not help either of us. He is self-made and you can’t teach someone those lessons we learned, they must be learned on one’s own.

    I really liked this whole post and love the links.

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      I like to maximize everything so in the beginning i misunderstood that you should pick a spouse by the personality compatibility. I think that it’s not how it works. Many factors go into people falling in love.
      But, the big benefit of knowing personality is.knowing how to relate to one another in a way people get it and feel fulfilled.
      Just reading about personality types makes me so excited but my husband doesn’t care. I asked, begged, demanded, stated that it was so important he takes time to learn about it and nothing. He’d start out but nothing sticked because he wasn’t interested.
      So I did it myself. I tried to figure out how to be the spouse that n makes him happy and put a few things into practice. When he felt happy he started to want to find out about how to make me happy.
      My toddler is much more cooperative when he’s happy and feels safe and loved than when I’m mean. Surprise surprise.
      When I must talk about us (because sometimes you have to address an issue with words) I start talking about sex and I have my husband’s attention.
      When you find out about personality is not about finding that you’re incompatible. I think it’s better than that because it gives you a way to turn the problem around.
      That’s what i think but wait until Chris makes me mad. Ask me then ;)

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Actually, back then I was huge into personality typing, but it was not myers brigg, it was Enneagram personality system, I got way more out of that than I have every gotten out of Myers Brigg. Anyway, we are both 8’s, which it is very rare for two 8’s to have a happy marriage because it’s like lightning and thunder. We are going on 13 years now so I guess we like creating havoc. And anyway, life is never boring for us, there is always something going on.

        Our kids are also intense, so we tend to attract people that like loudness.

  4. malaika
    malaika says:

    what a fantastic post, penelope! I especially loved this last line: A career is nice, but a career in the context of poor relationships surely belies a hole in one’s education.

    it seems like what you’re saying is that all kids should learn to develop their emotional intelligence, because that is what is key to both a solid marriage and a great career. which we don’t learn in school, but easily could soak up from books and videos and workshops.

    • Penelope trunk
      Penelope trunk says:

      Well said Malaika. It’s just that emotional intelligence is large and vague with no proven model. Dividing the tasks of emotional intelligence into goals and tactics seems more manageable to me.


  5. Cheryl
    Cheryl says:

    Very interesting post–my husband and I were talking about it this morning.

    Do you have a citation for the study that happiness correlates to sex once a week with the same person? Your link takes me to a post of yours from 2006, and the link there just goes to a Dartmouth professor. It also doesn’t have the “same person” limitation there. Thanks so much.

  6. Commenter
    Commenter says:

    I am happily married. As such, I think getting married is a great choice… if you marry the right person. Obviously, if you marry the wrong person and end up getting divorced, it was a terrible choice.

    Is there a good way to increase the odds you are marrying the right person? I don’t know what it is.

    I proposed to my wife after a few dates, on our first Thanksgiving together. We had ‘hooked up’ on Memorial day, then I spent the summer on another continent, then the fall in a different state, then proposed to her on Thanksgiving. I don’t think that’s the method.

    The timing was right, the personalities were right, the ambitions were right. And, of course, I knew her in the first place.

    Maybe that’s one of the things you could add to your curriculum: go somewhere you’ll meet the type of person you’ll want to marry.

    For me it was a small Eastern liberal arts college.

    They like to brag about their curriculum there, but the single best thing I got out of that school was my wife.

  7. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    “They like to brag about their curriculum there, but the single best thing I got out of that school was my wife.”

    Aw…. :)

  8. HomeschoolDad
    HomeschoolDad says:

    I am already all over this even though my kids are 8 and 9. Yes, it is by far, the most important decision of one’s life and there’s no instruction or training materials. One thing I do is constantly point out to my kids failed marriages (in our family/social circle) and I explain, as best as I can, why they are failing. I want my kids to be very afraid/wary of choosing the wrong person. Most parents don’t have frank discussions like this. Most would never think to point out to kids the fact that their aunt and uncle hate each other and are on an expressway to divorce. I am not in this category. It’s too important of a subject to avoid.

  9. J
    J says:

    Although seen by many as politically incorrect, I really enjoyed the perspective of Susan Patton (aka “Princeton Mom”) in her book Marry Smart. Her advice rings true from my experience and seems to support Penelope’s opinions as well. I had my teenage daughter read Marry Smart, and she found it helpful to think that she needs to take finding a spouse just as seriously as finding a college/career that she loves.


  10. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    “And kids should understand that the goal of education is to grow solid relationships.”
    I could not agree more. I do teach them to observe their relationship with nature, and by extension should be teaching them to observe human nature.

    Maybe your city kid, will end up an urban farmer like these kids are in Austin http://www.tenacreorganics.com/.

  11. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “The big takeaway here, of course, is that kids should learn about relationships just as they learn about other subjects they’re interested in. And kids should understand that the goal of education is to grow solid relationships. A career is nice, but a career in the context of poor relationships surely belies a hole in one’s education.”

    I like how you tie together a kid’s education and their future life and careers together with the importance of developing and maintaining relationships. Today’s society makes it difficult to maintain relationships. A successful career today can entail moving the family all over the country (or the world for that matter) for the sake of the breadwinner’s career. It disrupts the stability of relationships. It can make the task of maintaining relationships very challenging and all the more so for kids. Looking back now, I was very fortunate to have parents who stayed in the same house from when I was two years old onward. I have a close friend who moved away after he completed his junior year in high school. I knew and went to school with him for seven years before that time. I know it was hard for him. It was easier for me as I still had other friends that I had known for a long time that I could pal around with. I’m happy to say that I still stay in contact with him and his family to a limited extent. I recently read online the experiences of a military family that had moved all over this country multiple times. Different places, different schools, etc. Each family member wrote their experiences including the kids. It’s hard enough for the parents and much harder for the kids. Some people’s personalities are better able to adapt to the changes in their lives due to what is a nomadic existence. The argument can be made that frequent moving can improve their skills of relationship building by necessity. However, I can’t help but think that the ‘optimum’ frequency and timing of a move during a kid’s development varies by the individual and the whole family moves together at one time regardless.

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